St. Paul police officers undergo ‘moral courage’ training

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What does moral courage mean? For the St. Paul Police Department, it means training on how to police with integrity and how to stand up to other colleagues if something isn’t right.

It’s an issue close to St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell, who is haunted by a moment early on in his career.

"My partner at the time, who is no longer a police officer, I remember [him] taking the wallet of a drunk man on the front porch," Axtell said. "And my partner officer began to take [the man’s] papers out of his wallet and toss them over his shoulders, while he was looking for his identification."

This memory is one reason why Axtell began looking into a training model called "moral courage" for his officers.

"The longer I have gone in my career, the more I wish I had stepped in earlier into that incident," said Axtell.

St. Paul Police said one of the goals of the "moral courage" program is to build commitment and capacity to do what is right, despite fear or concern about social pressure or peer disapproval from other officers. The program also works to stimulate moral courage and a spirit of professionalism and help officers understand that individual moral courage is inextricably related to the organizations and cultures in which individuals function.

"I share that experience and make sure our officers have the tools to step in earlier to say, ‘Stop it. I’ve got the call; go sit in your squad car. I’ll be there in a moment,’" Axtell said.

St. Paul police said this training is not remedial and it’s not offered because officers have done wrong; rather, it’s intended to build on strengths and to assure that officers continue to act in ways that serve all members of our community, and which thereby confer honor on the department, the city and the profession of policing.

"Stepping in," the idea behind the training model’s philosophy, is a familiar issue.

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St. Paul Police Officer Lou Ferraro, who has been on the force for 18 years, found the training to be motivational and helpful.

"Moral courage to me means that you’re able to think about everything that stands right for you and what you believe in, and making sure that you have that strong foundation so that you have the confidence to make those decisions when you’re out on the street," Ferraro said. "In today’s society, with some of the stuff that is going on, it is courageous to think in terms of good moral judgment."

The "moral courage" training will be followed by the Ethical Policing is Courageous (EPIC) training, which officers will do next. EPIC is intended to strengthen a culture of mutual support, wellness and positive accountability in SPPD.

Formal training in support of EPIC will begin in late September as the "moral courage" training wraps up.